Jim Bradley remembered as dedicated, influential teacher, colleague

Feb. 02, 2013 @ 11:25 AM

Jim Bradley 21-year career as an eighth-grade history and literature teacher at Sevierville Middle School created a legacy that's being felt by everyone he knew.

Principal Donna Rolen described Bradley as a passionate teacher, a skilled woodworker, a Civil War buff, a friend and a mentor, all of which she can attest to.

"He was my eighth-grade science teacher when I went to school here," Rolen said. "We became colleagues and coworkers, and he became a great mentor for me. He was so instrumental in my teaching career."

Bradley, who died Jan. 18, learned of his illness last summer. Rolen said she was devastated when Bradley told her he had cancer, but even then his dedication to teaching came through.

"When he came in to tell me, I started crying, but he said, 'I thought it was bad when they told me I had cancer, but I thought it was worse when they said I couldn't come back to work,'" Rolen said. "That's the kind of person he was."

Dennis Chambers, Bradley's longtime friend and fellow eighth-grade history and literature teacher, said his friend's health seemed to be fine at the end of the previous school year.

"So it was a shock to the entire faculty, and we just prayed hard that he would be able to overcome that," said Chambers, who gave one of the eulogies at Bradley's funeral. He described Bradley as "a wonderful friend and a very wonderful teacher, as well."

"It was hard to start the school year without him," said Chambers, who taught with Bradley all 21 of his years at SMS.

Chambers said the school had a very close, family-like faculty, and Bradley tried to extend that to the classroom. Rolen agreed, saying he made students feel at ease in the classroom.

"They loved him for the stories he told; he was more like a friend," Rolen said. "It was a laid-back atmosphere, and the students felt at home. When you ask the kids who their favorite middle school teacher was, they'll usually say Mr. Bradley."

Kelly Lucey, a junior at Sevier County High School, is one of those students. She said her family knew Bradley's family, and Bradley was her favorite teacher at SMS because he made history fun.

"You wouldn't think it would be fun, but he made it fun," Kelly said. "He engaged the students in learning and didn't make school just some place you go every day. He made it enjoyable to go to class."

But although Kelly said she now enjoys history more because of Bradley, his teaching and influence didn't stop at textbooks.

"He taught you more about life things, too, about life itself — moral issues, things like that," Kelly said. "He really took an interest in students. He really cared about students and you could tell he loved his job."

Chambers said students often returned to the school after graduating to see Bradley, "thanking him for what he'd done."

One student, Rolen said, left his Marine training to attend Bradley's funeral.

"He leaves a lasting impression," Rolen said.

For many students, that impression is not only felt, but physically seen in the personalized nameplates Bradley would make for each student at the end of every year.

Kelly still has hers.

"It was a very personal thing to do, and he didn't have to do it, but he really cared about students," she said. "I get a little upset talking about it, but he needs to be remembered as an amazing person. He touched so many lives.

"For so many people he was more than a teacher."

rhargett@themountainpress.com